Refugees Deeply investigates failures in the most expensive humanitarian response in history, which played out during the refugee crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean.
(…) “The archipelago strategy, while commended for avoiding refugee ghettos, placed an administrative and cost burden that the misfiring alliance of the Greek government and international organizations could not sustain. It also revealed the shocking absence of a functioning chain of command.
Ask exactly how many refugee camps there are in Greece and no one is certain. Migration ministry bulletins list 39 camps, some of which are empty; others are mothballed and others still are in the planning phase but do not appear on the list. The UNHCR said there were more than 50, but did not give a specific number.
When the border was closed and the West Balkan route was blocked, as many as 11,000 refugees piled up in Idomeni. Behind the scenes a scramble for potential sites has been going on for months directed by Mouzalas and his close circle of advisers, including Alexandridis. Among the most problematic choices they made were a string of privately owned warehouses including Oreokastro, where the Madrati family found themselves, the Karamanlis tannery outside Thessaloniki, and Softex.
These sites, chosen in preference to public ones, also lacked all basic utilities. They were not served by sewerage, electricity or water systems sufficient for large populations. Transport connections – essential for refugees, who need to access health and asylum services – were largely nonexistent. At Softex the public bus company operates no services because the area has been a hub for drug dealing and is considered dangerous.
The insistence on these sites further complicated the role of the UNHCR and ECHO, which are not allowed to develop private property. When U.N. officials objected they were promised in private by Mouzalas that the sites would close after a two-month stopgap. Mouzalas declined to comment on the reported promises. Several of the sites continue to operate to this day.
“It’s inexplicable that they were not able to find publicly owned sites,” says the country director of one of the large international NGOs operating in Greece. “To have so many sites on private land is madness, and they’re paying rent for unacceptable conditions.”” (…)
photo@ L. Pillant (programme Médimurs), Centre de rétention de Pagani, Lesbos, 2011